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4 Ways to Improve Communication with your Remote Team

May 21, 2020
Linzi Nield
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The average user spends 90 minutes of active time on Slack per day. That’s a lot of time spent in communication versus productive work. 

Asynchronous communication seeks to solve for the time we spend in this distracted conversation. The term means communication that happens at different times, for example, if you send a message without expecting an immediate reply. It allows people to respond when it works for them, and it’s a critical component of remote team communication. 

While concurrent collaboration is ideal when it can happen, different time zones or working schedules may make this difficult. So, learning how to do async right – in a way that doesn’t isolate but rather enhances productivity – is a top skill for engineering leaders. 

How to do async right

Imagine how long it might take to accomplish something if you have to send a message, wait 8 hours to get a reply, and then send another for additional information. Sound painful? That’s why there’s a skill to async, and it starts with knowing how to frame an update or question so that it doesn’t require a lot of back-and-forth to be productive. 

Here are a few critical elements of an asynchronous question or update:

  • Context: Messages should include a recap of the project or situation, along with any useful background on the situation. If sharing a status update, flag any blockers to moving forward. 
  • Deadline: Set a timeline for when you need to hear back. Project management tool ToDoist goes so far as to require 24-hour response time for all employees. 
  • Action needed: Be clear around what you are asking for, whether it’s direction, feedback on a specific area or approval.

Build intentionality around where and when for async

Twist, an internal communication tool, recommends a few key use cases for async, including company announcements, weekly/monthly updates, project planning, project discussions and general feedback. 

Different channels may serve specific needs, and as a rule, it’s best to keep async communication in transparent channels that anyone can see, versus private messages. Tools such as Tettra offer a knowledge base where people can track important information without having to ask repetitive questions (and potentially wait for response). Or, an internal wiki or blog can help to centralize larger organizational conversations. Zapier, for example, hosts an internal blog appropriately titled Async to gather feedback and share context to keep projects moving.

Create ownership 

Be sure there are decision-makers identified, whether that’s an engineering manager or Scrum team lead, so that projects won’t get stuck in limbo over ownership. 

Balance async with human connection 

Leaning too much toward written communication can isolate remote teams – it’s important there’s also opportunity for face time with teammates. Build in 1:1s, team offsites and team meetings to continue driving connection. Take time in meetings for personal banter. When updates are shared asynchronously, consider using tools that put the person in the center – such as video platform Loom. 

It’s in the balance between async and sync where you’ll find productive, happy employees, it just might take time to fine-tune your channels and see what works best for your team.  

Ready for more tips on building and managing remote teams in our Remote Teams Playbook? Download it here.

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